Change is good. When people change the way their house looks, one floor comes up and another goes down. That’s good news for our industry. When manufacturers are anxious that their products are indistinguishable from the competition, they get cracking on something new. That’s more good news. When master installers come up with faster, less expensive techniques that do not compromise the integrity of their work, it’s good for them, their customers and everyone associated with the project. The flooring business thrives on change-and that is one fact that will remain a constant in 2007.
Some of the changes this year will be brought on by external factors, chief among them the economy. If, for example, new home sales and housing starts dry up, you might want to fish in a different pond. Make up for any lost business by adjusting your focus and widening your net. Look for business driven by residential remodeling and Main Street commercial. Get to know the specifiers and decision makers in those areas and make your case. You’ll be fine.
Yes, changes in the flooring business are inevitable and often beneficial, but there also are some things that should remain as unmovable as a thick slab of granite. Topping the list are the core values of our industry. The leaders in this business recognize that all areas of flooring must be produced and sold responsibly: with sustainable resources and respect for the environment. More important, they know that we’re all in this together; that no link in the supply chain is more important that the others.
Let’s never forget that a crucial link in that chain is the universe of specialty retailers. The people in these stores focus on fashion, style and, above all else, customer satisfaction. They are the heart and soul of the flooring business. But many, understandably, are uneasy about the way flooring is being sold. Veteran mom and pop retailers can be forgiven if they sometimes feel like calligraphers competing against high-speed printers. In recent years they have seen big box stores muscle in. With a few key strokes on their computer, they can find a multitude of websites offering flooring on the cheap. These additions to the retail landscape have not been good for flooring’s image. Mass marketing and low-ball pricing do nothing to position flooring as an essential element of home décor.
Our columnists Sam Allman and Warren Tyler have certainly taken notice. Throughout 2006 Sam and Warren encouraged specialty retailers to embrace change. They don’t want you to change your merchandise or slash prices. They are not urging you to take a cue from the big boxes and hire those whose last job was flipping burgers. Quite the contrary. Sam and Warren want you to change your approach to business without changing the core of your business. Your business, after all, is helping people achieve their dream of a beautiful home that reflects their individual taste and lifestyle. When it comes to flooring, your people are true sales pros who offer expertise and fashion sense. And they do it all in a warm, inviting way-which is why most of your business is from referrals or repeat customers. The only changes you should make are those that reinforce these qualities.
Where the change has to come is on the business side: technology, accounting, marketing, administration and so on. Do you know the equity value of your operation? The productivity of each employee? Are you using benchmarks to compare yourself to stores similar to yours? How about the return on your marketing investment or a month-to-month comparison of P&L? Are you still avoiding technology because that’s not the way your father ran the store when it was his?
That’s where the changes have to come: A tighter grip on your business will enable you to leverage the huge advantages you have over big boxes, discount websites and anyone else eyeing your customers. Do that, and you will truly have a happy new year.
Editorial Comment: In 2007, change how you are, not who you are
February 1, 2007